Report to the People

Senator David L. Williams, Republican Floor Leader

June 16, 1999

Campaign Finance

Repeal unfair and unenforceable laws

Recently, Special Franklin Circuit Judge William W. Trude, Jr. ruled to dismiss the indictments against four aides to Governor Paul Patton charged with helping unions coordinate campaign efforts with the Patton campaign, thereby violating the spending limit imposed on candidates by the 1992 public financing law. This decision has prompted many in our state to revisit guarantees of freedom of speech and association set out in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution.

The public financing bill was passed over the nearly unanimous opposition of Republicans. We feared that the bill unconstitutionally limited free speech, and Judge Trude’s opinion backs that view. Amendments were added to the law in 1996, but in our opinion, the law remains unconstitutional because it violates the free speech rights of both citizens and candidates.

Although many believe that acceptance of the spending limits set out in the law is voluntary, we would submit that indeed it is far from voluntary. The candidate who refuses to use taxpayer funds must raise all their own money within the same contribution limits as the candidate who accepts the funds. The accepting candidates get two tax dollars for each dollar they raise privately. If the refusing candidate raises funds in excess of the spending limit, the opponent also gets to exceed the limit, and continues to get two tax dollars for each dollar they raise. Thus, accepting the limit is as voluntary as armed robbery, and is thus unconstitutional.

Politics is the hard work of democracy. Political speech should be encouraged, not limited. The way the current laws are written, the people of Kentucky are not allowed to contribute as they see fit to the candidates of their choice, which limits their ability to have their voices heard.

The current campaign contribution limit of $1,000 is too low for potential candidates to mount successful campaigns against well-known individuals or incumbents. This limit gives a celebrity an unfair advantage, and also infringes upon the First Amendment rights of us all.

There are many who believe that $3,000 is a reasonable campaign contribution limit. In a $3 million campaign, that is a contribution of 1/10th of one percent. If your friend needed $10 for lunch, and you gave him a penny, that is a tenth of a percent. While your friend might use the penny, and he might even appreciate it, it would be difficult to argue that the penny would create much of an obligation.

While the law limits the speech of individuals, the voice of special interest groups rings loud and clear, in that their independent expenditures are not subject to control. Without individual input, the media and editorial writers become a filter and thus have ultimate control over what is seen and heard by the public.

I would rather hear what the candidates have to say, what they will do, what their vision or their philosophy is -- not what someone else says it is. The government should not decide how much information is enough.

I trust the voters of Kentucky to decide for themselves what is the appropriate amount of campaign expenditure and how much is offensive. How much is too much? Whom do they believe? With whom do they agree? Are they offended by who contributed to a campaign? And yes, I even trust them to decide which ads are truthful.

The solution I offer:

· Raise the contribution limit to a reasonable level.

· Have more instantaneous reporting of contributions. The public has a right to know who is supporting a campaign. Disclosure needs to be complete, accurate, quick, and frequent.

· Get rid of the blackout period (period of time in which no contributions can be made) one month prior to an election so that candidates can respond to attacks against them, and give all candidates an equal opportunity to run for elected office.

· Eliminate the public financing of campaigns and the two-to-one taxpayer to private fund match.

Then, the government should get out of the way and allow the system to work.

As legislators, we should strive to protect the First Amendment Rights of the people of this state. The first step in doing so is to repeal the campaign finance laws that are so obviously unfair and unenforceable. This issue rises above partisan politics as it will apply to both primaries and general elections. It is an attempt to defend the freedom of speech for the citizens of Kentucky and encourage fair competition in the political arena.


For more information, contact:

Senator David L. Williams

(502) 564-2450